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Donald Trump beats Rand Paul, Chris Christie in poll

The reality TV star came out on top of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a new poll.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump fell near the middle of more than a dozen potential Republican presidential candidates in the latest poll that asked members of the party who they would support in a hypothetical election.

The reality TV star and Dr. Ben Carson both earned 7% in a Monmouth University poll released on Monday that questioned Republican voters about next year's presidential election. They came out on top of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (6%), and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (5%).

Trump repeatedly has flirted with a presidential run, and recently began hiring staff in early voting states, including New Hampshire. Last month, the businessman and "Celebrity Apprentice" host publicly announced that he will form a presidential exploratory committee. Such a move typically is the first step for candidates who want to raise money without the constraints of being officially in the race.

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The Monmouth poll asked Republican voters to rank 17 potential candidates from their party. There was a tier of established politicians above Trump. The nominal leader was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 13%, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 11%. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee ranked next with 9%. Then came Trump and Carson.

None of the remaining possible contenders — businesswoman Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New York Gov. George Pataki, or former UN Ambassador John Bolton — registered higher than 1% of support from GOP voters.

With a 56% unfavorable rating, however, Trump ranked lowest of the 17 possible candidates, indicating negative ratings from Republicans nationwide.

Walker and Bush, who is weighing a presidential bid, ran almost neck-and-neck in a hypothetical two-candidate matchup involving the individuals seen as establishment figures.

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The poll was conducted by telephone between March 30 and April 2 with 1,005 U.S. adults. The results were based on a sample of 355 registered voters who identified themselves as Republicans or leaning toward the Republican party. The margin of error was +5.2%.

The poll indicated that not one possible Republican candidate appears to be separated from the group. Cruz and Paul so far are the only Republican candidates who have declared their intent to campaign for 2016. No Democrat officially has declared an intent to run, but former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to enter the fray in the upcoming weeks.